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James Robert CRUZ Jr.

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Rape - Truck driver
Number of victims: 1 +
Date of murder: March 21, 1993
Date of arrest: September 8, 1993
Date of birth: 1957
Victim profile: Dawn Marie Birnbaum, 17
Method of murder: Ligature strangulation
Location: Centre County, Pennsylvania, USA
Status: Sentenced to life imprisonment without possibility of parole on March 13, 1994
 
 
 
 
 
 

James was a long hall truck driver that resided in Columbiana County, Ohio, with his wife and daughter.

As we have learned from previous Serial Killers, employment as a long hall truck driver gives those so designed a sense of anonymity along our endless highways and the perfect setting to rape and or slay and run. Most times victims of said individuals lay undiscovered for long periods, if even discovered at all. One can only imagine the shear magnitude of corpses that most likely lay undiscovered along Americas highways.

21 March 1993, Dawn Marie Birnbaum, 17, ran away from a boarding school located in Bangor, Maine. Dawn had been placed in the school after her mother had become fed up with her rebellious adolescent behavior. Dawn's mother had hoped that the school would be able to help with her daughterís severe behavioral problems.

On March 24, 1993, three days after her disappearance, one found Dawn Marie Birnbaum's corpse. The corpse of the young woman had been placed in an area of rest between the roads 26 and 550 of Pennsylvania, and it was discovered by a motorist.

Upon arriving at the scene, investigators quickly noticed that a yellow nylon rope had been wrapped around the victimís neck and tied in a "granny (style) knot". It was also noted that the victimís hands had been bound with lengths of the same rope and she was nude from the waste down. Crime Scene investigators also discovered a set of tire tracks leading away from the dump spot; it was later determined that these tracks had been left by a large truck or semi.

An autopsy later confirmed that the victim had in fact been strangled with the length of rope that was left tied around her neck. While collecting latent evidence the medical examiner further determined that the victim had been raped and two strands of black hair were discovered amongst the victims natural blonde hair.

Investigators soon discovered that Dawn's murder was very similar to that of eight other women that had been discovered near or around Ohio interstate truck stops. All of the victims had been strangled and sexually assaulted; although, most were found to be lot-lizards (trucker slang for prostitutes).

Due to the fact that Dawn had crossed state lines (before or after death) investigators contacted the offices of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The FBI, state and area law enforcement began to compare the tire tread casts that had been made at the scene, with semis from various trucking corporations. In addition, they began to wade through thousands of truck stop receipts ranging from Bangor Maine to Centre Clinton Counties (where the body was discovered).

After hours and hours of research, investigators began to see a common thread emerging and the tire casts eventually led them to a trucking business located in New Waterford, Ohio.

It was soon discovered that the semi in question was driven on a regular basis to Maine, and the driver of the rig was a so called man James Cruz Jr. Investigators quickly obtained a search warrant for the semi and were able to obtain one long blonde hair from the passenger seat of the truck. Pennsylvania's state crime lab was able to determine that the single hair was a match to that of Miss Birnbaum's. Due to the hair match, investigators were able to obtain a court order forcing James Cruz to submit to blood testing for comparism to semen discovered in the vagina of the victim. Preliminary analysis of the suspectís blood indicated a 660 million-to-one match.

On September 8, 1983, five months after Dawn's body had been discovered, James Cruz Jr. was placed under arrest at his employers corporate office located near the Ohio/Pennsylvania border. Cruz, 36, was accused of murder in the first, second and third degree, kidnapping, rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse (sodomy), robbery and theft by unlawful taking.

On Septembe 10, 1983, Cruz was taken for his arraignment, in an Akron Municipal Court. At the hearing Cruz's bond was set at five million dollars, the highest bond ever set in Summit County.

"Death you can handle, this you don't"
-- Cruz's wife.

After Cruz's arrest, a special task force was coordinated in an effort to try and prove James involvement in the unsolved string of murders that plagued the area.

On March 13, 1994, after a judgment with juror, James Cruz was sentenced to life imprisonment without possibility of parole.

The task force that was assembled to prove Cruz's involvement in the unsolved prostitute murders was eventually disbanded. Investigators were unable to obtain any SOLID evidence linking Cruz to any of the murders, although, there is no doubt in any of their minds that Cruz was in fact the killer. After Cruz's arrest, the string of prostitute murders along the highways of Northeastern Ohio stopped just as abruptly as they had begun.

We will most likely never know the full extent of Cruz's involvement in the unsolved prostitute murders. To this day, the cases remain open and unsolved....

 
 

Fate of Cruz trial now rests in hands of jury

By Courtney Cairns - The Daily Collegian Online

Tuesday, June 14, 1994

The jury watched a simulated strangulation yesterday during closing arguments in the trial of James R. Cruz Jr. as Centre County District Attorney Ray Gricar attempted to demonstrate how a 17-year-old runaway might have been killed.

After wrapping and knotting a stiff, yellow rope around a dummy's neck, Gricar set a timer in front of the jury and let it count down four minutes.

The packed courtroom was silent except for the whirring of the air conditioner and the soft beeping of the timer, which marked the amount of time Gricar said it would take to kill a person by stangulation.

"That's a long time to change your mind," Gricar said.

As the trial entered its sixth day, the defense and prosecution called final witnesses and presented closing arguments. Cruz, his wife and mother -- wearing a gold "#1 Mom" necklace -- sat unflinching throughout the arguments, speaking softly about their family during breaks.

Cruz, a 36-year-old truck driver from New Waterford, Ohio, is charged with kidnapping, raping and murdering Dawn Marie Birnbaum of Maine. Her partially clad body was found in a snowbank near state Route 26 in Spring Township on March 24, 1993.

Cruz has pleaded not guilty. Gricar has said in the past he is pressing for the death penalty.

George Lepley, co-counsel to First Assistant Public Defender Deborah Lux, presented the defense's closing argument. Lepley and Centre County Judge David E. Grine both stressed that Gricar had to prove Cruz was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

"You must hold the Commonwealth to that burden," Lepley said. "If you don't, there are dire consequences."

He explained that proving someone guilty beyond a reasonable doubt is based on an assumption it is better to let 10 guilty men go free than to punish one innocent man.

Lepley cited the prosecution's main evidence linking Cruz and Birnbaum, saying it did not stand up to scrutiny. The prosecution had searched for evidence because it needed a conviction, not because it was acting in "the right way," Lepley said.

"They're asking you to sit in this case and ultimately decide whether a man lives or dies," Lepley said.

A forensic scientist testified last week that DNA found in Birnbaum's underwear matched DNA taken from Cruz. Lepley and Gricar both said a one in 72 million chance existed that the DNA could have come from another Hispanic.

But Lepley emphasized that the sample might not have come from Cruz, and Gricar cited testimony that "DNA is, with the exception of identical twins, unique to an individual."

Lepley and Gricar also gave varying interpretations about testimony concerning hairs found on Birnbaum's body. Gricar said Cruz's hair was "consistent microscopically" with the hairs, but Lepley said it did not prove anything beyond a reasonable doubt.

Lepley also set a hypothetical scenario suggesting Birnbaum may have left Maine with, and been killed by, a truck driver she ran away with in 1992. Last week, some of Birnbaum's school friends testified she had mentioned running away with that man.

Other witnesses last week testified seeing someone around the time Birnbaum was murdered who looked similar to a police mug shot of the man.

"Look at the coincidences," Lepley said.

Investigators initially suspected that truck driver in Birnbaum's murder, but Gricar said Cruz and Birnbaum could be linked by DNA, phone calls made by Birnbaum at a truck stop where Cruz refueled, the dark hairs found on Birnbaum and a blond hair found in Cruz's truck and the tire tracks, made by tires matching the ones on Cruz's truck.

Gricar also said Cruz lied during interviews with police when he said he had never met Birnbaum, he had doctored travel logs and he did not react when police told him what had happened to Birnbaum.

"He wasn't surprised to hear she was murdered," Gricar said. "If he's innocent, he should have been stunned."

Cruz did not take the stand, but Grine instructed the jury before they left for deliberation not to infer he was guilty because he did not testify in his behalf.

 
 

Ohio truck driver waives his extradiction hearing; will now face murder charges in Centre County

By Paul Resch - The Daily Collegian Online

Wednesday, Sept. 15, 1993

An Ohio truck driver accused of killing a 17-year-old Maine girl waived his extradition hearing yesterday in Akron, Ohio, according to Ohio court officials and Centre County District Attorney Ray Gricar.

James Robert Cruz Jr., 36, of New Waterford, Ohio, is accused of strangling Dawn Marie Birnbaum and dumping her body along a northbound on-ramp of state Route 26 in Spring Township last March.

Gricar said Cruz probably did not fight extradition because of the evidence against him.

"It is extremely rare that anyone contests extradition," Gricar said.

Ohio court officials said Pennsylvania authorities have 10 working days to pick Cruz up and bring him back to Pennsylvania to face charges.

Pennsylvania State Police, a sheriff or both will bring Cruz to Centre County, Gricar said.

Cruz was arrested last Wednesday on charges of first-, second-, and third-degree murder, rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, robbery and theft. He is being held in Summit County Prison outside of Akron, Ohio, on $5 million bail.

When Cruz is brought to Centre County, he will be taken before a district justice for a preliminary arraignment where charges will be read and Cruz will be asked to enter a plea, Gricar said.

Gricar said he will request that no bail be set for Cruz because it is a capital case involving a possible death penalty. Pennsylvania's constitution states that no bail should be set for capital cases. Gricar said he will be seeking the death penalty in Cruz's case.

During the preliminary arraignment, a district justice will schedule Cruz for a preliminary hearing at the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte.

Gricar said he will present the evidence against Cruz during the preliminary hearing in an attempt to prove the crimes occurred and Cruz was connected to them.

If sufficient evidence is presented to justify continuing the case, a district justice will send the case to court for further proceedings, Gricar said.

 
 

SEX: M RACE: W TYPE: N MOTIVE: Sex.

MO: Trucker; rape-strangler of women, mostly prostitutes.

DISPOSITION: Life term on one count in Pa., 1994.

 
 


Dawn Marie Birnbaum, 17.

 

 

 
 
 
 
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